“The Mantle of Elias” and Chinuk-Chehalis Wawa

mantle of elias

(Image credit: Amazon)

See what you think of this further evidence that we should call Chinuk Wawa something more like Chinook-Chehalis Jargon.

The Mantle of Elias: The Story of Fathers Blanchet and Demers in Early Oregon” by M. Leona Nichols (Portland, OR: Binfords & Mort, 1941).

The first section of this book is a dramatized telling of early Catholic history in the Pacific Northwest; it’s worth a look to get a sense of the overall story.

But the second part (pages 256-337) is the author’s transcription of valuable old “Church Records” of marriages, baptisms, and so on. The data in this latter segment are really valuable to us. Like Harriet Duncan Munnick’s later-published and partly overlapping “Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest”, an amazing multi-volume set, these pages give us just about the most direct possible view of the mixed-race households that founded PNW society. Aboriginal ethnicities are usually made note of, and there’s one that I had my eye open for: “Chehalis”.

It’s spelled here as < Tyelis >, < Tchalis >, < Tchilis >, < Tchailis >, < Tchihelis >, and < Tchehilis >. But all are “Chehalis”, and I suspect that is specifically the inland “Upper Chehalis” in this context.

These labels only occur infrequently, whereas we’d expect plenty of Lower Chehalis Salish intermarriages, just as we see significant amounts of fur-trader marriages with all the lower Columbia River-area tribes (e.g. Cowlitz, Cayuse, Clatsop) as well as those from farther north and east where that industry had previously been active (e.g. “Crise”/Cree, , “Sauteuse”/Saulteaux, Okanagan, Iroquois(e)).

My inference, then, is that some of the Lower Chehalis people who we might expect to see called “Tyelis” etc. are actually among the many, many so-called “Tchinouk” and “Chinook” folks in these church records.

Let’s recall that Lower Chinooks and Lower Chehalis Salish are understood as having already been heavily intermarried and jointly occupying some number of villages on Shoalwater Bay and the Columbia River estuary, notably the village of “Chinook” on Baker Bay of the Columbia. (All of this being in extreme southwest Washington state.)

Relating to this, we can keep in mind that the earliest documents we have of the Lower Chehalis Salish language often call it “Chenook”/Chinook!

A number of Newcomers were even aware that there were two separate tribal languages spoken in the extreme SW WA villages, James G. Swan for example, but still they had difficulties distinguishing which words (for example ones loaned into Chinuk Wawa!) came from Lower Chinookan and which from Lower Chehalis.

Surely it didn’t help matters that, as Indigenous people themselves have told, nobody could learn the famously difficult Chinookan languages, and I’ve only heard of one White guy that could talk Lower Chehalis okay. (And that was after the frontier period, in the early to mid- 20th century.)

Also, virtually everyone in the historical period referred to all Indigenous people of extreme SW WA indiscriminately as Chinooks. This is an exonym — an outsiders’ name for those folks.

Distinct mentions of the very numerous “Chehalis” people who lived out their lives in those communities are seldom found. (Not to mention the Athabaskans/Dene who also traditionally lived in the area.)

The irony and/or the rich parallel, in this light, is that “Chinook” is said to be a non-Chinookan name, an exonym itself — given by the (Lower) “Chehalis”!

Equally nonspecific is the description of everyone “at Tchinouk” (page 272) as simply “native”.

I’m going to leave it at that, and let my readers ponder whether the people and the Jargon known as Chinook to early newcomers might be *both* Chinookans and Lower Chehalis.

What do you think?